“The Haunter of the Dark”

Raw Feed (2005, 2012): “The Haunter of the Dark“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1935.Dunwich Horror and Others

This story is dedicated to Robert Bloch, then one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft circle. I don’t know if he had started writing then, but the titles of tales the protagonist-writer Robert Blake has written sound like some Bloch Cthulhu mythos stuff I’ve read. The Cthulhu Mythos was never a planned, internally consistent series, but by this time Lovecraft and others had written enough of the stories that Lovecraft mentions Azathoth, Yuggoth, Khem, and Nyarlathotep and the Necronomicon and several other of the fake books of the Mythos.

On reading the story for the third time in 2012, I noticed this time that this story – perhaps because I knew he was jocularly responding to Robert Bloch’s “The Shambler from the Stars” – is Lovecraft’s most personal in that he goes on and on about the architectural details of the building housing the Church of the Starry Wisdom and Providence in general.

Also, this story has a similarity to “The Music of Erich Zann” in that, with the area around the church and its strange power and seeming portal to other dimensions, is reminiscent of the apartment building that story takes place in.

Also, I forgot the addition to the Mythos’ blasphemous library and scholarly (including a play on the Bloch invented Black Pharaoh) that Robert Blake finds.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

“The Music of Erich Zann”

Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “The Music of Erich Zann“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1921.Dunwich Horror and Others

Another early story that shows Lovecraft operating in a less characteristic way than he was to become famous for.

This is another European story in that its locale is vaguely European. The only specific geographical reference is to Rue d’Auseil street yet the language of the narrator is unstated as is his purpose for being in the city.

The story is less explicit than Lovecraft’s most famous stories; it is almost entirely a mood piece.

The Rue d’Auseil, supernaturally disappearing and abutting alternate dimensions, is an extreme example of the lost Pickman apartment in Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model“.)

And yet, there is something of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror here in that Erich Zann, whose motives are never made clear, seems to look out his window at cosmic dimensions and play his strange, original music as much to keep monsters at bay as call denizens of the cosmos to him. Continue reading

“The Colour Out of Space”

The Lovecraft series continues with the first Lovecraft story I ever read.

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Colour Out of Space“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.Dunwich Horror and Others

Before reading this story again — which is probably the fourth or fifth time — I would have name it as one of my top three Lovecraft stories. After reading it again this time, I regard it as Lovecraft’s best work.

The horror and creepiness stand up after several re-readings. The pacing is good; the story never sags.

There is a great line:

 It was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside; and as such dowered with outside properties and obedient to outside laws.

Not only is the story a great work of horror but also a great work of sf.

I suspect Lovecraft, an enthusiastic follower of science as shown by the learned interlude where the Miskatonic University chemists analyze the “meteorite”, was smart enough to know some of the implications of something so radically different, at the quantum level, from our universe that it doesn’t even produce colors known to us.

As with “In the Vault” from two years earlier, Lovecraft chooses, for whatever reason, to set the main bulk of his story in the 1880s, the decade before his birth.

However, he also shows some characteristic plotting.

The story is told in the first person in contemporary times by a man who has discovered an historical horror. There’s even a passage of dialect from old Ammi (as with Zadok in Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” — though not as long).

On re-reading the story in 2013, I still found it an impressive piece of work.

I was struck by a few things.

Since I’ve read Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” since last reading this story, I can see the debt in the imagery of the moving trees and open skies.

There is an element of Job in Nahum Gardener wondering what he did to deserve such divine punishment.

The story, because of its frame and foreshadowing constantly moves and doesn’t, apart from the opening paragraph, spend much time building atmosphere without mentioning the menace of weird events.

If the story has any faults, it may be a trifle wordy. For instance, we are told at least two times the “blasted heath” is advancing every year.  Perhaps one would have been enough but, given the unstudied account of the narrator, it is in character.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

“The Outsider

Raw Feed (2005, 2016): “The Outsider“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1921.Dunwich Horror and Others 

This is one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated story — if for no other reasons than its short length makes it one of Lovecraft’s most easily anthologized works and because of the strong temptation to see, in the solitude and naïvete and hideous and scholarly pursuits (the narrator improbably teaches himself how to read and speak — a literary tradition going back to at least Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan) of its narrator, a mirror of the odd-looking young Lovecraft bereft of a father who died mad in an asylum and a mother who thought him ugly and left him to his books and his homemade altars.

This 1921 story finds Lovecraft working in a European mode because, in terms of architecture (castles) and setting.

Specifically, there are elements of Edgar Allan Poe here. The end of Poe’s “William Wilson” also features a shock ending of self-revelation via a mirror. The isolated childhood brings to mind Poe’s “Berenice” with the narrator who grow up in the “mansion of my fathers”. Poe scholar Stephen Peithman has suggested the tone of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” influenced the tone of this story. All quite probable since Lovecraft later dismissed this story as his imitation of Poe.    Continue reading

“The Rats in the Walls”

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Rats in the Walls”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1923.Dunwich Horror and Others

I noted, when reading the anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth (sequels to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) how many British writers fruitfully used their Roman past for horror stories, so I was surprised that Lovecraft, in this 1923 story, used that very setting — in fact, he refers to horrors that are pre-Roman.  (If I read this story before, I had completely forgotten it.)

The story also features subterranean horrors which also featured prominently in several of the stories in Shadows Over Innsmouth (as well as several Lovecraft stories — the underground horrors are ghouls in 1926’s “Pickman’s Model” and rats here).

This story shows, already at this point in Lovecraft’s career, the framing device of starting the story in near contemporary times (the given date at the beginning is in 1923) and then relating a scholarly historical account of discovered horrors. Continue reading

Wake Up, America!

Review: Wake Up, America!: World War I and the American Poster, Walton Rawls, 1988.Wake Up, America

A beautiful, big coffee table book not only full of well-reproduced posters but also a brief history of the American war effort as touched upon by the subjects of those posters.

Rawls starts out with a brief history of the lithographic poster, an art form still in its golden age during the war. The art poster, not only advertising a product but also aesthetically interesting to collectors, started in France. He also talks about some of the famed European poster artists and their American counterparts on the eve of the war.

The poster was an ideal form of communication in the days before radio and tv, a form that yanked eyes to it and imparted a message even to the illiterate or those not speaking the language of the land they found themselves in. Every nation in the war used them. A German artist who later achieved some political prominence said that American and British posters were the best of the war, uncluttered and effectively conveying their demands to the viewer, conveying and persuading.

Destroy This Mad BruteThe book has a number of non-American posters illustrating events in the pre- and early war years or those few that inspired American imitators.

Americans were producing posters concerned with the war even before the country joined the conflict. Most begged for money to relieve suffering in France and Belgium, an effort very efficiently managed by future President Herbert Hoover. Others were affiliated with the 1915 preparedness efforts of groups like the private National Security League to get ready for a war they thought inevitable.1918_WillYouSupplyEyes_work

On April 17, 1917, a mere 11 days after America entered the war, the president of the Society of Illustrators, Charles Dana Gibson, the man who created the famous pictures of Gibson girls, was asked by illustrator George Creel to let the latter form a committee to produce whatever artwork the government needed. On April 22nd, Gibson met with Creel and the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information was born.

By the end of the war, they had produced 700 poster designs to the U.S. government as well as hundreds of other advertisements, cartoons, banners, seals, and buttons.

The subjects were multiple: recruiting for the military, food and fuel conservation, war bonds, war films, counterespionage and security awareness, book drives, the Veterinary Corps, the Y.W.C.A and Y.M.C.A, women in factories, war gardens, and admonitions to immigrants (often in foreign languages) to prove their loyalty.

2d043046493acb017581933931306827The book talks about American at war through the context of these posters with some mostly forgotten stories like the largely unsuccessful attempt to produce a purely American fighter plane, the Liberty Plane (proclaimed by American ace Eddie Rickenbacker as “Flaming Coffins”) or the specifics of the Liberty Loan drives or a call by the U.S. Navy for citizens to loan them binoculars and spy-glasses.Pennell_That-Liberty-Shall-Not-Perish-From-The-Earth,-Buy-Liberty-Bonds,-First-World-War-poster

There are a few post-war posters about hiring veterans, getting other veterans to re-enlist, and the “Watch on the Rhine” overseeing defeated Germany.Poster-Weapons_For_Liberty-Boy_Scouts

Of definite interest for those interested in poster art and World War One. With 279 pages of text and at least one poster on almost every page, there are hundreds of things to look at here.Poster_-_Food_will_win_the_war

 

 

More reviews of World War One related topics are here.

“Pickman’s Model”

Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “Pickman’s Model”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others

This is the second time I’ve read this 1926 story, and I think it’s a good, mid-level Lovecraft effort.

It’s set in New England, Boston to be specific.

What I found most interesting on rereading this story was the narrator and Pickman’s love of the macabre in art which places the very talented Pickman outside the pale as far as the conventional, conservative Boston art community is concerned. One gets the sense that Lovecraft considered the aesthetic of horror seriously, regarded it as a serious and worthy subject of art and disdained the conventional society that probably didn’t agree. (It’s hard to conclusively. Horror in the pulps was probably not too highly regarded because of its context, but I suspect there were well regarded “mainstream” horror events that society creatures and elite taste setters might have approved of). The taste seems to have extended to the visual arts since he mentions some not only Dore but Goya and also Lovecraft’s friend, the visual artist Clark Ashton Smith (who was also a poet and fiction writer).  He also mentions a couple of painters I’ve never heard: Angarola and Sime.  [I’ve since seen some of their work, and Sime illustrated Lord Dunsany, William Hope Hodgson, and Arthur Machen.] 

The narrator of the story, mirroring Lovecraft, remarks on the wonder and terror to be found in ancient places.  Continue reading

“In the Vault”

H. P. Lovecraft gets mentioned a lot here — but in relation to other people’s works. I haven’t talked about Lovecraft’s own fiction.

Part of that is that I’ve read a lot of his work multiple times and often — but not always — made notes on each reading. I’ve talked a bit about my reading history with Lovecraft in “Yog-Sothothery“.

Putting those notes together in a coherent form is time-consuming. And I have to do multiple index entries each time.

However, some regular followers of this blog are interested in weird fiction and Lovecraft, so I’m going to start covering individual Lovecraft stories between reviews of new and mostly unrelated books.

All these entries on Lovecraft’s fiction will use S. T. Joshi’s corrected texts.

Raw Feed (2005)eview: “In the Vault“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dunwich Horror and Others

This 1925 story is a biter-bitten tale.

A cheap, but not malicious, undertaker is maimed by the man whose ankles he cuts off to put him in a cheap coffin.

The story is set in New England, and I find it interesting that Lovecraft not only adopts a characteristic framing device — the story is told by a narrator in contemporary times and related second-hand by the doctor who treated the protagonist’s injuries after he was accidentally locked in a burial vault — but that Lovecraft’s antiquarian interests cause him to set the story in 1881 — nine years before he was born.

The beginning two sentences

There is nothing more absurd, as I view it, than that conventional association of the homely and the wholesome which seems to pervade the psychology of the multitude.  Mention a bucolic Yankee setting, a bungling and thick-fibred village undertaker, and a careless mishap in a tomb, and no average reader can be brought to expect more than a hearty albeit grotesque phase of comedy.

reminded me of Sherlock Holmes admonitions about the crimes committed in lonely rural areas in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”.

It is also a self-conscious opening by a horror theorist who is deliberately going against what he regards as common prejudice.

 

More Lovecraft related entries are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Dreams of Fear

Once upon a time I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing a book of poetry.

If it’s well-done poetry with elegant and compressed language, the reviewer will either leach the power of the language out by wordy restatements of actual verse or devolve into a technical discussion of interest to poets, maybe, but not necessarily poetry readers.

But I’ve violated that principle already.

Review: Dreams of Fear: Poetry of Terror and the Supernatural, eds. S. T. Joshi and Steven J. Mariconda, 2013.Dreams of Fear

First off, some of these poems are about the subject of horror and not horrifying or terrifying

Second, some are little more than memento mori. Well done memento mori but not necessarily terrifying or involving the supernatural.

Third, all the languages represented are, understandably but unfortunately, European. Specifically, Greek, Latin, French, German, and English.

Arranged chronologically by date of the poet’s birth, the collection goes back all the way back in the Western literary tradition to Homer, and we get expected excerpts from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, Dante’s Inferno, and one of the classic bits of supernatural verse – Satan in Hell from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

As you would expect, supernatural verse really took off with the Gothic and Romantic Movements with their love of the frission of terror and the sublime and weird ballads. Continue reading

The Midnight Eye Files

A few months back, it was the weekend of my birthday.

I’d just finished David Hambling’s Alien Stars, and I wanted another book of a mystery, private-eye, Lovecraftian sort.

It was my birthday, and I didn’t feel like reading anything on my review list. So, after spending some minutes looking at my kindle titles, I latched on to William Meikle’s The Amulet which I had gotten free somehow.

I liked it so well, I bought this omnibus and finished the rest of it the same weekend. (You see, authors, sometimes giving away the free sample does work.)

I first came across Meikle’s work in High Seas Cthulhu, and I’ve liked most of his stories I’ve come across in various anthologies.

Low Res Scan: The Midnight Eye Files, William Meikle, 2013, 2016.Midnight Eye Files

The mean, low-rent streets of Glasgow, Scotland and the hero, Derek Adams, are the strong points here.

Adams is a one-time microbiology student turned wise-cracking reporter turned wise-cracking private eye. He smokes too much, drinks too much, earns too little, and can’t get over the guilt from the suicide of his girlfriend 20 years ago. He’s a self-consciously Philip Marlowe type.

Meikle, a Scot transplanted to Newfoundland, lived and worked a number of years in Glasgow, so depicts the town he knew then though the setting is now an “idealised one“. We see the highs and lows of Glasgow, the pubs and thrift shops, and slums as well as the country and towns nearby.

The usual private eye plots are in place. Meandering questioning of people, some who won’t survive the story, gradual revelations here that involving the occult. Meikle has some continuity in character relationships from novel to novel which is welcome instead of hitting the reset button after each story. Continue reading